Kepler Telescope, Now Back To Life, Discovers New Exoplanet

The Kepler Telescope has been brought back to life, and for the first time since its resurrection it’s found a new exoplanet – that is, a planet outside our own solar system, Universe Today is reporting.

You may recall that, in 2013, the Kepler telescope suffered a catastrophic malfunction that put the $600 million mission in jeopardy, according to this Inquisitr report, dashing the hopes of any new planets being found by the spacecraft.

However, space scientists found a workaround, according to Space, and brought the hobbled spacecraft back to life, re-branding the mission “K2.”

Today, Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced that the K2 mission has discovered its first new planet.

“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries. Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies.”

The new planet, lovingly named HIP 116454b, orbits a dwarf star about 180 light years from Earth, completing its orbit about once very 9.1 days. The planet is terrestrial; unlike Neptune or Saturn in our own solar system, it’s solid, being composed of rock or even metal. It’s 2.5 times the size of the Earth and 12 times its mass. And most promisingly: it may have water.

The Center for Astrophysics (CFA) explains how Kepler susses out new planets: by carefully watching for transits – the shadow cast by the planet as it passes between the Kepler spacecraft and its own sun. For this reason, large planets and small stars make for easy targets for Kepler.

However, due to the 2013 malfunction, Kepler needs some extra help from scientists back on the ground to confirm is findings.

“Due to Kepler’s reduced pointing capabilities, extracting useful data requires sophisticated computer analysis. Vanderburg and his colleagues developed specialized software to correct for spacecraft movements, achieving about half the photometric precision of the original Kepler mission.”

In other words, whenever Kepler finds a new planet, its findings need to be reviewed and confirmed by Earth-bound telescopes measuring tiny fluctuations in a planet’s orbit – scientists call this the “wobble” – caused by the planet’s gravitational pull on its sun. A telescope on the ground in the Canary Islands, as well as a Canadian satellite known as MOST, crunched the numbers and confirmed Kepler’s findings.

John Johnson of the CFA is excited about studying the new planet – in particular, looking for signs of life.

“HIP 116454b will be a top target for telescopes on the ground and in space.”

Kepler’s new planet, and all of the science that went into confirming it, will be published in the scientific publication Astrophysical Journal.

[Image courtesy of: Huffington Post]

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